It was about 4 a.m. on July 14 when Antonio Feliciano thought he was about to be killed. He was working as a night clerk in the 7-Eleven on Route 9 in Martinsburg, W.Va., and a masked robber had a sawed-off rifle pointed at his temple. Feliciano and a coworker had already handed over all the cash from the registers—roughly S150—but the jittery robber, according to Feliciano, was demanding more and cocked the gun menacingly to underscore the point. Then Feliciano did what he thought he had to. In a blur he knocked the gun away and subdued the robber, who turned out to be a 35-year-old woman whose weapon was unloaded. "I just reacted," says Feliciano, 27. "You know the old [saying], 'I saw my life flash in front of my eyes'? It's actually true. It's very upsetting."

Almost as upsetting as what happened next. After a two-week review of the incident, 7-Eleven fired Feliciano for violating the company policy against resisting robbery attempts. "We knew this may harm our reputation in some people's eyes, but we're doing this for safety reasons," says 7-Eleven spokeswoman Margaret Chabris, who points out that the company's policy is based on studies' findings that resisting a robbery attempt dramatically increases the chance of bloodshed. She also notes that after the incident Feliciano vowed he would do it all over again, under the same circumstances.

In principle, Feliciano—who has yet to find another job and who has a wife and two young daughters—says he agrees with the policy. But he argues that there are times when employees have the right to make life-and-death decisions for themselves. "How can you punish someone," he asks, "for trying to save their life?"